You enter the building through a 90-feet-high atrium which sports a 16 tonne, 40ft by 22ft HD display and uses a pulley system so it can be raised and lowered 30ft to accommodate various events.
The museum’s seven levels of displays and experiences include more than a dozen galleries that explore the history of news and how the media covered the most important events of the past century. Visitors access vast amounts of information at interactive kiosks using 24in, high resolution touch screens. The kiosks are connected to a powerful fibre network carrying audio, video, control and data.
The Newseum’s Berlin Wall Gallery includes the largest display of sections of the wall outside Germany. The Today’s Front Pages Gallery presents daily front pages from 80+ international newspapers. Other galleries present a range of topics which include the First Amendment, world press freedom, news history, the September 11 attacks, and the history of the internet, TV, and radio.
This is no mere museum sporting traditional AV either. It also functions as a major broadcasting facility with two TV studios and HD production pumping out radio and TV shows of note regularly. The seven-story building also includes a conference centre, offices, a restaurant and apartments.
Content is everything. Former news producer Sonya Gavankar serves as the face of the Newseum by hosting live interview programmes and appearing in video installations, video blogs and game shows. She brings a cohesive voice to the Newseum’s 250,000 square feet of exhibits and interactive programming as a communicator who uses dynamic storytelling techniques and pop culture literacy as a spokeswoman, television and podcast host, filmmaker, and Web 2.0 multimedia content creator.
“Half of our visitors are school kids and we want them all to leave with the same knowledge. That’s hard but we try to achieve it through interactive audio visual and experiential learning,” says Gavankar. “The building is also a conference space. And we throw parties in the museum so it’s very flexible. Then again it’s a huge building, so it lends itself to that.”
It’s this flexibility that makes the Newseum amazingly versatile. Even the lifts double up as cocktail bars after hours as you rise to the top floor of the museum and emerge at your party. Elevators become party-vators. It’s also a great place to have a dinner or corporate meeting. “We can rig upper levels for sound, change the lights, make them hover and you get the whole beautiful Pennsylvania Avenue view,” says Gavankar.
Monitors drop down pretty much anywhere. “We livestream almost all of our programmes, which is great because we can then tell the networks they can use our live feeds for free – which is super convenient for them and great PR for us,” says Gavankar.
“The master control operates the entire museum so if we want to shoot in a theatre that has really loud audio coming through, we can mute everything from here. We can actually change over most of the screens in the building to cover live breaking news. If there was, God forbid, another 9/11, we could turn it over to show that at any time. What we mostly use for breaking news is our atrium screen, the largest indoor HD screen in the world. We use that mainly for live sporting events. That’s what people love it for,” says Gavankar.
The best use Gavankar has seen of this screen was for a black-tie dinner, after-hours. With everyone seated at table on the Atrium floor they lowered the screen down to floor level and played an old video of an orchestra playing on it and then piped in the orchestra music. It was as though you were right up close with the orchestra.
“It was just really wonderful. So that’s a great way that we can use the entire space. We found that people will stand for about four to six minutes. So if it’s a standing video it goes very fast.”
The museum’s Berlin Wall exhibit has also just started operating its own VR experience, the most technologically advanced since the Newseum began incorporating the technology into its exhibits in 2016. The Berlin Wall is the first of several artifacts in the museum’s collection that will be explored through VR over the coming year.
(This article originally appeared in AV Magazine)